zeborah: Zebra looking at its rainbow reflection (rainbow)
Firstly and most importantly, the thing where they're privileging people who have, or who are willing and able to pretend to have, WASPonyms. Other people have explained why Google's choice here is problematic. Yet others have pointed out that Google has no legal obligation to do otherwise, which I don't dispute. But regardless of legality, barring the most vulnerable in our societ[y|ies] from your service is an evil action, and is possibly even more evil if you pay lip service to welcoming them but nevertheless make it too dangerous for them to actually join.

Secondly, if I've followed a link to view a Google Plus entry and I want to scroll down to read the rest of the conversation, pressing the spacebar does nothing. (In case you've never used it, the spacebar effectively provides a "next screen" function on just about every other website out there on the entire interwebs. I've been using it since all I had was Usenet.) Instead I have to
  • press Function-PageDown (an extra key and using weaker fingers) or
  • use the scrollbar (lots of wrist movement to get the mouse into the right position) or
  • dictate commands to my voice recognition software (which just crashed three times while trying to launch and on the fourth attempt took so long I fell asleep while waiting for it to succeed)
-- in short, this bizarre disfunctionality cripples my ability to read anything on their site. I don't know if this is a general accessibility problem or just me, so I won't call it evil -- but it's damnedly annoying.

If anyone knows somewhere I can copy this information to Google themselves I shall do so; I've given up searching myself.
zeborah: I believe in safe, sane, and consensual Christianity. (credo)
(For Bearing Witness.)

(NB: When I say "we", I generally mean "I and people who are like me in the respect presently under discussion". Probably not always, but mostly.)

Part 1
There are a lot of Christians who would say to gay people, "Jesus totally welcomes you to his church, as long as you stop being gay." You know, just stop having sex with the person you love and/or are married to.

2000 years ago, a lot of Christians were equally 'welcoming'. They said to gentiles, "You can totally be a Christian, as long as you stop being uncircumcised." Just a wee snip, nothing to it.

And then there were some other Christians who said, "What does God care how much skin you've got? You can totally be a Christian. Full stop."

Arguments ensued between the two factions.

Peter (the Peter who all the Popes are spiritually descended from) belonged to the first camp. And then he has a dream in which God tells him to kill and eat an animal which, according to Mosaic law, was considered unclean. Peter -- very self-righteously, as Peter was wont to be -- says "No way, I've never eaten anything unclean!" and God says "Don't call anything unclean which I have made clean." (Read the unmangled original here, NIV version.) This happens three times, because Peter always needs things to happen three times before they can sink into his head.

Then Peter wakes up and a bunch of uncircumcised men come along and invite him to their place to teach them about Christ, and one thing follows another and he has this "Oh, I get it!" moment. And later on when his fellow Christians are all "Dude! You ate with uncircumcised people, ew!" he explains his dream to them and they all have the "Oh, we get it!" moment. Moreover, they have a "Whoa, God's giving new life to everyone, isn't he awesome!" moment.

2000 years later. I'm googling for "what I have made clean" instead of checking my church service sheet for the chapter and verse, and I come across someone on Yahoo Answers asking "Which is the worse sin, eating pork or homosexuality?" and a whole bunch of people saying homosexuality. One guy in particular reasons thus: because of Peter's vision, God made eating pork clean, but homosexuality is still a sin. And I... I just... Okay, I shouldn't have clicked on a link to Yahoo Answers, but seriously...

You know how when Jesus is wandering around telling parables, and they're totally missing the point -- oh look, by "people" I mean Peter -- and he does this awesome wee rant of frustration at how stupid they are? I kind of want to do the same thing.

People! It was a vision, a parable! It wasn't about the food! --Okay, it was a little bit about the food. But mostly it was about how the whole entirety of the Mosaic code doesn't matter anymore. Jesus's death has made everything and everyone clean. Pork doesn't matter. Circumcision doesn't matter. Homosexuality doesn't matter.

This is what Peter's vision says: God has welcomed everyone. How dare we unwelcome them?

Part 2
Originally I was going to say something like "These things don't matter; all that matters is love. If you love your neighbour, if you welcome everyone, you can be a Christian." But... you know, that's still a conditional.

A while ago when I was googling on Anne Lamott, I found a quote of hers, "You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do," which made me a) giggle and b) wonder in a kind of Steve Urkel voice "Do I do that?"

And while I was listening to my minister's sermon on Peter's vision I was pondering about how religions/denominations can start off so tolerant in one area and then become so intolerant in others. Christianity is totally tolerant of gentiles but... well, I love Paul-was-Saul, but his asexuality has had, shall we say, an unfortunately disproportionate influence on the Church's development.

And I think what might be going on is maybe that we say "X doesn't matter because what really matters is Y":
  • Making the right sacrifice doesn't matter because what really matters is being circumcised.
  • Circumcision doesn't matter because what really matters is not having the wrong sex.
  • Homosexuality doesn't matter because what really matters is being tolerant.
Not only do we claim we have the final say on what matters, we also claim that we can judge how well someone has followed our rules -- despite that famous line "Judge not lest ye be judged."

And Peter's vision says we can't do that. All those Christian fundamentalists who keep hatefully rejecting people, all those money-grubbing evangelists who I don't think are acting like real Christians? Too bad for me, because who's Christian and who isn't is not my call. If I believe that God welcomes everyone unconditionally, then I've got to allow the ramifications of that "unconditionally". And that is: If someone wants to be a Christian, then they're a Christian. No "ifs". Just done, full stop.

This doesn't mean I can't tell them when I think they're doing Christianity wrong of course. Because...

Part 3
I need to circle back to the point about how dull and slow Peter is.

I mean, Jesus told him back in Matthew that what goes into your mouth isn't what makes you unclean (this is really important, so it's worth repeating: Jesus says oral sex is A-OK, folks!), but only what comes out of your mouth. And years later Peter still needed a threefold vision to hammer essentially the same point home again.

But despite the fact that Peter was so dull and slow, Jesus kept on more-or-less-patiently explaining, again and again, no matter how many times it took. And/but/because/so Peter was the guy Jesus decided to make the foundation of his church.

My three thoughts on this:
  1. I think each of us has something we're dull and slow about sometimes -- a lesson that we have to learn over and over again. So, while rolling our eyes at Peter is fun, I think there's room to identify with him too.
  2. Jesus' mix of patience, occasional exasperation, but fundamental love and especially perseverance sets a really good and vital example for us when we think people are doing Christianity wrong.
  3. Eventually Peter got it. It took him years and plenty of divine head-banging, but in the end he got it and himself passed the message on. And, when it sometimes seems to us that people -- including Peter's spiritual descendants -- are never going to get it, that is an awesome message of hope.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
I'm writing this as I explore Buzz's privacy issues, so what I write at the start is amended by what I discover further on. I note ETAs briefly after I've finished exploring. This got bloody long; if you don't have all that time, scroll down to my conclusion or to the TL;DR.

If you have a GMail account, Buzz is enabled. [ETA: This turns out to be not as scary as it sounds. But still.]

The splash screen where it asks if you want to check it out or not? That doesn't mean "Do you want the function or not?" It means "You have the function. Do you want to know more about it or not?" Even if you click no, you'll see the Buzz logo in your side nav-bar under the Inbox.

Click on the logo and it'll show you you're automatically following some people and some people are automatically following you. It also tells you that "Your Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums, and Google Chat status messages will automatically appear as posts in Buzz." [ETA: It turns out that this sentence is a lie. It means "If you connect them, they'll automatically appear".]

[Sidebar: This is an example of why automatically sharing things is a bad thing to do [ETA: or even to threaten to do]. It's also a great example of privilege at work, in that Google engineers apparently have the privilege of not fearing for their lives.

So. There's a line that says "Zeborah (Edit) - 0 connected sites - 5 followers". I click on that "5 followers". The top follower is someone I don't even know. I don't know his name, and though he has a public profile it only consists of his name and avatar - I can't tell anything about him from it. I click on "Block". [ETA: I just thought to check my gmail contacts. It turns out to be someone I emailed once to give something away on Freecycle. Once. I don't know why he's following me; maybe he really likes Buzz; maybe he's got very few contacts so Gmail randomly decided he should follow me.]

The next 4 followers are all people I know. They don't have public profiles, so no-one else will see that they're following me. (This is what Google was talking about as one of its privacy improvements.) But they're still following me even though I've never said that I even want to be followable. Of course they probably don't realise that they're following me, just like I didn't realise I was following 12 people.

I go back to the main Buzz screen and click on the list of the 12 people I'm following. One of those people is actually a pseudonym for myself. It's like "Superman" to Clark Kent: it's the name I use to fight crime. (Specifically, 419 scammers.) When I'm fighting crime, I'd really rather that the criminals I'm emailing not know who I am in real life. I'm really open in sharing about myself on the internet; I'd forgotten that even I have reasons to be careful of privacy. Mental note: go onto the 419 crime-fighters forum and write a tutorial about Buzz.

So at this point I open my librarian-persona gmail in another browser. Librarian follows Zeborah and unfollows everyone else. Zeborah shares an item in Google Reader and... Huh, actually it doesn't turn up in Librarian's Buzz. Why is that?

Zeborah doesn't have a Google profile; so let's create one. I go back to the "Zeborah (Edit) - 1 connected site - 5 followers" line and click on "Edit". I leave everything blank and untick things so that I'm not automatically sharing anything, then at the bottom click "Create Profile".

Now Librarian is able to see Zeborah's profile, but still can't see who Zeborah is following or what Zeborah has shared in Google Reader.

Zeborah follows Librarian. Zeborah can now see all Librarian's items. Librarian still can't see who Zeborah is following or what Zeborah has shared.

Going back to the "Zeborah (Edit) - 0 connected sites - 5 followers" line I click on "0 connected sites". I leave the first page alone and click "Next"; now it asks me to create a profile. This is apparently different from a regular Google profile which I've already created? [ETA: Not different exactly, but it adds fields into the regular Google profile which weren't there before.] Anyway, it lets me opt out of showing off who I'm following and who's following me, so I untick that box and create the profile. (Even if I tick that box, Librarian can only see that I'm following "1 other person without a public profile", so it does protect that person's privacy as long as they don't create a profile.)

Librarian still can't see Zeborah's previously created shared post.

Zeborah creates a second shared post - now Librarian can see that.

If Zeborah unfollows Librarian, Librarian can still see Zeborah's shared posts (including new ones).

If Zeborah blocks Librarian (when Librarian was previously able to see Zeborah's shared posts) Librarian can still see Zeborah's old shared posts, but not new ones.

Tentative conclusion (because this much exploring fades my brain)
I think that people can't see who you're following or who's following you unless you've opted to create a Buzz profile and left the option ticked, and even then they can't see the names of anyone who hasn't created their own profile. I think that people can't in fact see your shared items unless you opt in by adding connected sites, and I think that even then they can't see items you've shared in the past, only what you share from now on. However if someone can see your stuff and then you block them, they can still see your old stuff.

I think that "Librarian is following you" actually means "Librarian would like to follow you if/when you create a Buzz profile and add connected sites".

I think that all of this could have been a lot clearer. This just took me an hour and a half to figure out, which is unacceptable.

And I think that when you block someone, it should remove all your past items from their view.

If you've done nothing with Buzz, you're probably fine.
If you have done stuff with Buzz and are concerned about privacy, you probably want to:
  • Check your connected sites - you want that to be 0. If it's not 0, click on it then for each site listed, click "Edit" -> "Remove site". Save your changes.
  • Check your profile - click "Edit" next to your name. Delete all the information you want deleted and untick all the boxes. Save your changes.
You'll still see that people are 'following' you, but as far as I can tell they won't be able to actually see anything.


zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)

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